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When infrastructures are working, we don’t tend to notice them. From sidewalks and roads to digital platforms and building designs, such systems ideally support the flow of day-to-day life. However, when infrastructures rupture, as they often do, their role in shaping our social and emotional worlds becomes instantly apparent. At Antwerp, an exhibition at the Garage Top at the Mackey Apartments featuring new work by Benjamin Hirte and Nancy Lupo, an anxiety about the built environment comes to the fore. Their sculptures draw attention to the aesthetic weirdness and political power that lie behind mundane spaces and social processes. But these works also suggest imaginative possibilities for thinking (and feeling) infrastructures in new ways.
The show, which was commissioned through the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, occupies the back space of a mid-century apartment complex designed by L.A. architectural icon Rudolph Schindler. In the concrete courtyard, Lupo’s aluminum sculpture, Department of Transportation (2020/2021), fits with the hard-edged environs while still seeming oddly out of place. The work consists of two curvilinear pipes supporting a pair of brutalist slabs adorned with peculiar, compelling details: tiny wall niches with curved tops; soap dishes lacquered in metallic green nail polish. The sculpture recalls both Robert Gober’s sinks and public bathrooms. Lupo sourced these forms from ornamental features alongside benches at the Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, an imposing downtown fortress celebrated for its design yet suggestive of the hierarchical forces behind our transportation systems. In recasting these elements, Lupo both spotlights and satirizes this eerie, outsized sense of infrastructural authority. Her installation speaks the language of form and function but revels in an uncanny and celebratory sense of uselessness; we’re reminded that concepts such as “efficiency” and “functionality” are less a given than they are purposefully and politically constructed.
Up a set of stairs, in a room above the apartments’ garage, Hirte’s installation builds on this playful, eerie mood. The centerpiece is Antwerp (2021), a wall-sized digital projection named after a hallucinatory, experimental novella by Roberto Bolaño. In Hirte’s film, a meditative dreamwalk through an empty 1980s office complex traces the material pathways of once-efficient spaces. Slow zooms and drone footage add to the sense of Gothic unease, as does the booming, suspenseful soundtrack lifted from a German true-crime TV series. Elsewhere, a pair of matte rubber sheets hang from the ceiling, affixed with little LED lights that fork like street lamps and cast the rubber in a soft, punctuated glow. Titled Lots (2021), the sculpture recalls the blank asphalt of an abandoned parking lot and the digitized flicker of server farms. Like the video, the work is meditative and unnerving at once. Smaller works around the space distract a bit from these larger, more affecting pieces, but the installation overall makes a provocative horror story out of ordinary environments, suggesting a disconcerting underside.
In complementary and satisfying ways, Hirte and Lupo draw out layers of insight from ubiquitous but often overlooked urban-aesthetic forms. Certainly, we are living in a moment of infrastructural confusion: Who are these systems designed to serve? What happens when they break down? Here, the artists do not offer answers, but they do evoke a sense of dramatic interdependence with the constructed, material world. In doing so, they encourage us to pay closer attention to the felt effects and political resonances of everyday space.
Antwerp runs from August 26–October 3, 2021 at Garage Top at the Mackey Apartments (1137 S. Cochran Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90019).